Fantastic Four (2005)
When I was just entering my teens my best friend and I would spend those hot summer’s days on his porch reading comic books. On of our favorites was a title published by the Marvel Comic Group, the Fantastic Four. It quickly became my all time favorite comic. I was very excited that after some forty four years this comic was to be given a high budget, live action film treatment. Previously, there had been a really bad version and a passable animated television series but this was to be a special effects extravaganza. After watching the film I would be the first to admit the film has its flaws but as a life long fan I could find myself able to forgive a lot of them. There are just some films that strike a cord in you so that you can over look a lot and for me this was one of them. Still, as I write this review I do have to be honest so here goes.
Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) is a brilliant scientist but not very good with getting or deploying funding. As such he finds himself all but bankrupt looking for someway to save his finances and reputation. When he hears about an unprecedented solar flare about to hit the earth he devises an experiment to use the cosmic rays to experiment with their mutagenic effects. Richards plans to take is friend, astronaut Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) along as the pilot to examine the effects of the rays. When NASA rejects his proposal Reed turns to his old college roommate, Doctor Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon). Von Doom is now everything that Richards would like to be, rich, successful and seen as brilliant by his peers. Von Doom even owes his own space station. Richards approaches Von Doom and his proposal is accepted with a few modifications. First, Richards must take Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) along. Sue was once romantically involved with Richards but now is paired with Von Doom. She is also the Director of Genetics Research for Von Doom’s organization. Second, they have to take Sue’s brother Johnny (Chris Evans) along as pilot. The space station is exposed to a much higher level of radiation than Richards had predicted. The cosmic rays penetrated all shielding and started the process of rapid mutation in all those aboard.
Richards discovers that his body is now amazingly mutable. He is able to stretch and reform his body to almost any shape he desires. Sue is now able to turn herself invisible. Within a short time she is also able to turn her clothing invisible as well and project a force field. Her brother Johnny can ignite himself with flame. By becoming lighter than air he can use his flame to fly. Poor Ben has just about the worse transformation. His flesh becomes orange and rocky, a thing with extraordinary strength. Von Doom’s flesh begins to mutate into a flexible metal amour and gains the ability to project electrical bolts from his fingers. Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben combine forces to become the Fantastic Four. They take on the non-secret identities of Mister Fantastic, The Invisible Woman, The Human Torch and the Thing. Naturally, Von Doom becomes the overt villain, after all, with a name like that what else could happen.
The story line combined a lot of the action from the original comics but for true fans there were some variations. For one, in the comic Von Doom’s metal shell was burned onto his flesh, he didn’t grow it. Sue’s ability to project force fields took a lot longer to develop in the comics. The film also has a period of time when she could not turn her clothing invisible so they could take the unnecessary and puerile measure of having Ms Alba strip before turning invisible. The setting is correct being placed in New York City. Being a life long resident of this city its familiar setting was one of the things I Like most about the comic and the film. The main theme is pretty standard, nothing of the complexity found in the comic. This was disappointing. The film came across as an origins issue, setting up the audience for more films in a franchise instead of building a better stand alone movie. While the special effects where great it would have been a lot better if the same writing that was afforded to Spider-Man and The X-Men was given to this flick. This film lacks the dramatic foundation of those two new classic.
Overall the casting here works but perhaps better choices could have been made. One of the trademarks of Marvel comics was how human the characters were. They may have had super powers beyond imagination but they suffered from the same human flaws and dilemmas as the rest of us. This let the young audience of the comics identify with them on an emotional level. This was lacking in the film. Ioan Gruffudd gives a one note performance as Richards. Since the film set a romantic triangle between him, Sue and Von Doom more emotional commitment was required by Gruffudd. Jessica Alba is rapidly becoming the current media darling. According to recent interviews with the young actress she is striving for parts that develop her acting abilities instead of showing off her near perfect body. Once again the writers would have done better to stick with the comic and made Sue into more of a socialite instead of making her a scientist. This was the right time in his career for Michael Chiklis to play a role like the Thing. During his days in the television series the Commish, he was too soft to ever be seen as the every lovin’ blue eyed Thing. Now that he has buffed up for his role on The Shield he has the right physical presence to make this role work. The Thing was one of the best tragic heroes in the Marvel universe. He was a physical monstrosity with a human heart who could only find love with a blind girl, Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington). Even though his acting was somewhat stunted Chris Evans does well as the Human Torch. He portrayed Johnny as a typical teen aged boy that suddenly received super powers, he enjoys it. Johnny has fun with his new found abilities and is not above using them to pick up girls. Julian McMahon doesn’t have enough of a sinister side to realistically play one o0f the all time great super villains in comic book history. He should have played the role a little closer to the line of going over the top instead of the melodramatic road he took.
A look at the resume of director Tim Story shows that he did not have the experience in an action flick. His previous works included Barbershop and Taxi (the one with Jimmy Fallon). The scene between the exposure to the radiation and the return to earth gave the impression of something missing. The pacing was generally good but there were times when the exposition went on too long. The special effects were a big part of what saves the film. This is a reasonable outing for a summer action flick but lacked the human drama over comic book films have achieved. Spider-Man has set the bar very high and this film did not rise to the level.
Fox did do a great job in bringing this film to DVD. The 2.35:1 anamorphic video (forget about the pan & scan variation) is excellent. There are no artifacts even in scenes that juxtapose light and dark. The color palette is well done with an exceptional tonal quality. The Dolby 5.1 audio is great. All six speakers will get a work out here. This is not a film to watch late at night. The sub woofer shakes the room. There is also a DTS track that gives a more realistic back field to the sound stage. For extras there is a reasonable selection. First, there is the cast commentary track featuring Ioan Gruffudd, Michael Chiklis and Jessica Alba. Chiklis is by far the best speaker here, having a lot of practice with the commentaries he has done for the Shield DVDs. Alba's youthful enthusiasm comes through although many of her comments begin with "remember when we...". There is a look at the up coming X-Men 3, some deleted scenes and the usual making of featurette. There is also a home movie style tour of the production process hosted by the cast. Finally, there is a casting segment from the Fox movie channel and a music video. Fans will want this just because it was a childhood favorite. While not the greatest comic book film ever made it does the job of offering an hour and forty five minutes of escapism. Have some friends over, order a couple of pizzas and pop open a brew or two and enjoy.